Assess Before You React In Emergency Situations

Assess Before You React In Emergency Situations
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Due to the current state of the world, and nonstop media coverage of tragic events, we’re more on edge in public spaces than ever before. But reacting before you think can be just as dangerous to yourself and others as the perceived threat – especially when you’re in a crowded environment.

Photo by Junpei Abe.

The moment something seems to be wrong, we tend to assume the worst and go into a frenzy. It’s the “flight” part of our “fight of flight” systems. But according to G. Keith Still, a professor of crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University, you’re much better off keeping calm and taking a few moments to examine your surroundings. Still explains to Popular Science:

People running without thinking, that has been the cause of many different serious injuries lately. Assess, don’t react. It might only take a few seconds to change your outcome.

Still’s researchers have found a noticeable rise in injuries due to perceived threats over actual threats. Basically, people are panicking and hurting each other more often, even when there isn’t necessarily an actual threat. As Still puts it, the cause is likely our enhanced collective sensitivity to danger. We see so much violence on TV and the internet that we’ve primed ourselves to expect it when we go out and about.

Instead of rushing to action and potentially making things worse, says Still, when you perceive a threat, don’t immediately start ploughing into the people in front of you to get away. Not only can you hurt others for no reason (such as if the threat isn’t real), but there may be an escape route right behind you that you hadn’t noticed. You can even train yourself to have a better situational awareness and scan your environment for escape routes the moment you enter them to give yourself a leg up. But even if you don’t, remember that taking a deep breath and absorbing as much information as you can is better than hopelessly charging into the crowd.


  • It’s one of th first rules you learn in emergency services: don’t run unless you have an exceptionally good reason to do so. We don’t run into scenes without assessing them first.

  • There can be a phenomenon where people in groups fail to act individually any more and act as a collective (especially in emergency situations where panic sets in) – not sure what this is called but it’s quite interesting to see in action and is really common.
    It would be nice to just stop and think but quite often you don’t have time. Hesitation can actually work against you in emergency situations.

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